Hospital CEOs from Houston’s Largest Hospital Systems Discuss Capacity and COVID-19 Surge Plans

By: Rachel Norton
| Published 06/25/2020

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THE WOODLANDS, TX – Hospital CEO’s including, Dr. Marc Boom with Houston Methodist, Dr. David L. Callender with Memorial Hermann Health System, Dr. Doug Lawson with St. Luke’s Health, and Mark A. Wallace with Texas Children’s Hospital, held a zoom conference, June 25, out of concern, “that recent news coverage has unnecessarily alarmed the Houston community about hospital capacity during this COVID-19 surge.”

The two key major takeaways from today’s discussion: The Houston health care system has the resources and capacity necessary to treat patients with COVID-19 and otherwise, as well as the reiteration that it is vitally important for our community to do its part in order to flatten this new surge.

The following are statements made by each CEO that summarize their key points –

Dr. Marc Boom with Houston Methodist

“What you’ve been hearing is a report that we are at 97 percent or so capacity across the Texas medical center. At Houston Methodist, we’re somewhere in the low 90s right now in terms of capacity of ICU beds, but let me put that in perspective … June 25 2019, exactly one year ago … It was at 95 percent. We are highly experienced at utilizing our ICU beds for the sickest of the sick patients day in day out … and it is completely normal for us to have ICU capacities that run in the 80s and 90s. That’s how all of us operate hospitals, and how all hospitals operate.”

“The capacity that’s being reported is base capacity … we have the ability to go far higher than that in terms of the ICU beds that we can utilize for COVID.”

“We have, across Houston Methodist, 24 hundred beds 330 or so of those are our ICU beds on a normal day, but there is an ability to flex beds back and forth. We can turn regular beds into ICU as we need to with appropriate staff, ventilators, and other equipment. We can turn many other areas in the hospital like some of the recovery areas, pre and post surgical areas, and places like that into ICUs.”

“We are seeing younger patients, we are seeing a shorter length of stay, we are seeing lower immortality, and we are seeing lower ICU utilization right now.”

“People need to come to the hospital when they have clinical issues … People need to come to the hospital or emergency department to receive care and not allow bad things to happen to them because they are somehow inaccurately afraid of coming to the hospitals. That’s a very key message.”

“The time is now, as Houstonians, to band together and act like the can-do Houstonians that we are, and do all of the right things, and that means every single person in the community needs to be wearing a mask when they’re outside of the home, they need to avoid leaving the home or avoid going to social places or places where they congregate together whenever possible, they need to keep socially distanced, they need to do obsessive levels of hand hygiene. We’ve done that for months in our hospitals and we keep our employees and patients safe. We can do that across other businesses, across our lives, and get this virus level back down.”

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Dr. Doug Lawson with St. Luke’s Health

“Running a major hospital health system is truly as much of an art as it is a science. We work hard to staff to the volumes that we’re seeing on a day to day basis, and if we’re doing our jobs well we’re really matching our staffing to the patients who need us on a day to day basis.”

“The reality is our capacity to care for those patients significantly exceeds what we’re staffing on any given day … we’re also actively planning for anticipated increases over the coming weeks and months.”

As you look at the capacity of the hospitals on a day-to-day basis, it can be a little misleading. The reality is all of us have the ability to significantly expand capacity on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis.”

“Our hospitals are incredibly safe. We have learned how to make better use of our PPE, we have stock piled appropriate numbers of PPE so that that is no longer the issue that it was early on in the disease process, our clinicians are much more comfortable caring for the patients than they ever were, and the hospitals are really doing quite well in caring for these patients.”

“The businesses across Houston, we’re asking you directly to reinforce [safety guidelines] within your business areas, monitor your capacity, make sure that [there is] adequate room for people to move about safely within your organizations.”

“We’re all concerned about the spread of this virus… the reality is we have to do a better job [with] hand hygiene, and socially distancing ourselves. The spread is increasing and incredibly concerning, however our hospitals are okay and ready to manage this surge appropriately and effectively.”

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Mark A. Wallace with Texas Children’s Hospital

Texas Children’s Hospital is the largest children’s hospital in the country. “This morning’s census is down because we really just started building back up our elective procedures and admissions …[it’s] really high for a children’s hospital, but it’s low for Texas Children’s Hospital ... our census this morning is 581 patients. That’s a 68 percent occupancy. Typically Children’s Texas Hospital this time of year without the pandemic, our census would be running much much closer to 700, 725, maybe even 750, so much closer to 90 or 95 percent.”

“One day last November, our census hit 823 in one single day and our employees and our medical staff managed that and it really wasn’t a problem or an issue … so we know that we can flex up to 823 should that be necessary.”

“Of our 859 operational beds, 355 of them are ICU and NICU beds … [today] we have 43 empty vacant ICU beds. That’s a 74 percent occupancy.”

“We are taking care of COVID pediatric patients and we have been since the very inception and as was announced earlier this week we have already started accepting referrals from some of the adult hospitals in Houston … and that speaks to the fact that we do have capacity … we have plenty of capacity to take care of the children that need to get to the door step of Children’s Texas Hospital.”

“We need people to stay at home when they can work at home … it’s imperative that we keep our workforce healthy as we go through this pandemic … We’re asking the public to please help us, help our employees, help our nurses … we need to be serving them, making sure that the community is doing their part to keep them healthy.”

“All of us on this call today, we approach this from a very mission-oriented basis. We’re going to be here to fulfill our missions, take care of the patients and families that need to be taken care of, and we’re going to take good care of our employees and our medical staff. That’s our promise, that’s our pledge, and that’s what it has been for the Texas Medical Center for nearly 75 years.”

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Dr. David L. Callender with Memorial Hermann Health System closed out the meeting with this – “Our goal has been for the hospital operators, the people who actually manage bed capacity, to be clear that we’re not in imminent danger of running out of bed capacity here in Houston to care of COVID patients, or those who have other illnesses that require hospital care. We work every day to manage very complex patients across all of our facilities and are used to making adjustments on the fly, and that’s what we’re currently doing. We think it’s very important for the community to engage, to lock arms, to work a little harder at following these guidelines, using these measures that we’ve now proven in our hospitals will limit the transmission of COVID 19. Please help us help Houston.”

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